Allyson Stanley's Page
Grand Blanc Cohort
Single Gender Classes

It is a well known fact that boys learn differently than girls. Many researchers speculate that these differences affect how well each gender does in specific subjects in school. In fact, some people believe that these differences are so significant that students should be placed in single-gender classrooms so that they can learn better without the distraction of the other gender.

In the past, under Title IX, single sex education was considered unfair and unequal. However, in October of 2006, in accordance with No Child Left Behind, single gender classes became legal in public schools.

For the past few years at Grand Blanc High School, there have been courses offered in the subjects of math and English that are single-gender. I have had the privilege of teaching both a ninth grade all-male class and a tenth grade all-male class. In my class there have been both positive and negative reactions by the parents and students, but I believe the end result is that the students perform better. This has also shown to be true in the data from both the all-male and all-female classes in the two subjects. However, not everyone is in favor of continuing this practice. This page is dedicated to showing a non-biased examination of both sides of the issue.

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What's the problem?
To begin, it is first important to recognize that there is a significant difference in the way that male and female students learn. Without recongizing this, there would be no reason for single gender classrooms. Also, if a teacher is going to begin teaching a single gender class, he/she cannot just assume that the class should be taught the same as a coed classroom. It is essential that the teacher realize the differences between boys and girls and use those differences to change the way he/she teaches in the classroom.
  • While there are many studies that show there are significant differences between genders, it is important to offer the opposite belief. The Department of Education put out a study entitled "Girls Are...Boys Are...: Myths, Stereotypes, & Gender Differences" to counter the beliefs that there are differences in the ways that students learn. It discusses the myths behind gender differences and attempts to show that stereotypes have led to many of the beliefs that all students do not learn the same.

  • The previous article suggests the practice of ignoring gender differences, citing that they are nonexistant or suggesting that bringing them to light gives them merit, but a recent article in the Washington Post suggests that ignoring gender differences only makes them stronger. In this article, Dr. Leonard Sax discusses the recent wave of attention given to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga by teenage girls and young women. Sax argues that the actions and views of book's main character are anti-feminist and that she is a poor role model for girls. However, Sax says that girls are seeking out these gender stereotypical books because for their whole lives they have been taught that gender is insignificant. He says, "Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn't matter haven't created a generation of feminists who don't need men; they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the 'Twilight' saga" (Sax 2008). He even attributes the attaction of boys to violent games and pornography to this need to be politically correct.

  • Dr. Leonard Sax's book Why Gender Matters is given to all of the teachers at my school who decide to teach single gender classes. It is a study of the sex differences that have been discovered recently between boys and girls. It not only discusses obvious differences, like the fact that boys are more aggresive than girls, but it also gets into scientific research about physical differences, like the difference in the size of boys' and girls' retinas and how that affects the way that they see the world. Dr. Sax gives advice to both parents and teachers in a reader-friendly style.

  • Michael Gurien presents the various scientific differences between sexes in his book Boys and Girls Learn Differenly! This book looks at the neurological, chemical, and hormonal variations between the two sexes and explains how those disparities can affect learning. The author then presents a variety of methods for teaching boys and girls differently.
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The Problem with Boys
While researching the gender differences and the values of single sex schooling, I continued to come across a variety of resources suggesting that the problem in education really lies in the boys. There has been overwhelming evidence to suggest that boys are not successful in the traditional school setting, which results in poor grades, poor test scores, and poor behavior. For many reasons, boys are not getting the education they need in traditional school settings. I have noticed this dangerous trend occuring in my own classrooms, which is why I felt it was important to learn about educating male students and teach the classes I have chosen to teach. I have done quite a bit of research on the ways to teach boys and help them to be successful in my English classes.
  • In this article from the Washington Post, Dr. Leonard Sax discusses the implications of the 2006 film "Failure to Launch," which depicts a 30-something male (played by Matthew McConaughey) who is still living with his parents and has very few interests beyond playing video games and hanging out with his friends. While this may be a recipe for a great comedy, Dr. Sax suggests this is becoming more and more typical of the average young man, citing that a recent study showed that one-third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home and, unfortunately, are loving it.

  • PBS Parents has dedicated an entire section in their Issues and Advice column to raising boys. Their Parents Guide to Understanding and Raising Boys covers a variety of issues, one of them being the question of "Is school a bad fit for boys?" PBS cites sources which show the low graduation rate of boys compared to girls, higher chance of boys being labeled special education, and the better performance of girls in elementary, high school, college, and graduate school. This study suggests reasons why schools are ill-fitting for boys, suggesting problems with both the boys and the schools. Finally, they suggest ways that parents and teachers can nurture boys to have more success. They suggest strategies such as creating learning activities where boys are using their bodies and allowing boys to read books in which they are interested.

  • The newly created Boys Project is a foundation intended to help young men become successful adults. This project was created by Judith Kleinfeld, famous for her work on gender studies, but it is supported by a board full of well known researchers, professors, and psychologists, all dedicated to lessening the gap between boys and girls. The Boys Project encourages single sex schools as one possible solution to this gender gap.

  • Dr. Leonard Sax's book Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men has been paramount in my study of the male brain. This book is actually written as a warning for parents about the unusual epidemic of undermotivated, unambitious young men. Sax blames five factors for the decline of males: changes at school, video games, medications for ADHD, endocrine disruptors, and the loss of core values.

  • Dr. Paul D. Slocumb wrote the book Hear our Cry: Boys in Crisis, which details how a lack of attention on boys and young men has led to a crisis for boys, resulting in more boys being enrolled in special education, more boys being retained in the same class or dropping out of school, and more boys being sentenced to prison.
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The Solution?
While it may not yet be the most popular solution, many schools are turning to single sex sections of a class or even making their entire school single gender. While some reports show significant gain in student achievement, other reports show that there is no difference.
  • The National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE ) is the leading organization for the promotion of single gender classes and schools. This website, created by Dr. Leonard Sax, is devoted educating the public about single gender education. This site offers research, shows the reader schools who are currently using single gender education, and connects the reader to related links.

  • Education.com did a special edition page about gender differences and how they affect the classroom. This page has a variety of links for many different topics such as brain differences, how both boys and girls are disadvantaged in a traditional classroom, how boys and girls experience the classroom in different ways, and gender differences for special needs students. They also include a section on the advantages and disadvantages of single sex education. One of the best features is that this site includes facts, interviews, and video documentation.

  • Here is an article from Education World discussing both sides of the issue of single gender classes. In this article, the author, Wesley Sharpe, begins by discussing the changes that occurred for students at Jefferson Leadership Academies, the first public middle school to offer single-gender classes. Sharpe also discusses how most research now shows that the gender achievement gap has narrowed signifanctly for female students, possibly even showing that male students are less successful than female students in areas like reading and writing and behavioral problems. Sharpe ends his essay with a suggestion to continue the exploration of single-gender classes, challening educators in these areas to collect data and share their findings. He leaves the reader with a comprehensive list of websites and studies to further research.

  • Taking a fresh look at single gender classes is Woodward Avenue Elementary School, an elementary school located outside of Orlando, Florida. This video from Nightly News with Brian Williams looks at both an all-male and all-female classroom. While the school has seen a benefit for male and female students, the studies show that the male students are benefiting the most from this arrangement. Their test scores have improved, and the parents of the children feel that this is the best environment for their kids.

  • In a similar video from CBS News, the advantages of single gender classes are obvious, but some skeptics question whether or not the girls in single gender classes will lose out in the long run. Some question the equality of single gender classes, but in the end the students are happy with the outcome.

  • In this video from Nightly News with Brian Williams, two psychiatrists argue the advantages and disadvantages of single gender classrooms. Dr. Leonard Sax, of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, analyzes the different ways that boys and girls learn and the unfair stereotypes students see in a typical school setting. On the other hand, Dr. David Sadker, Professor at American University, recognizes those differences and stereotypes, but he argues that those ideas should be taken back to coed classrooms and addressed in that setting.

  • The comprehensive article "Teaching Boys and Girls Separately," by Elizabeth Weil, from The New York Times Magazine, gives a comprehensive overview of single gender education. It presents the gender learning differences, discusses schools that have had success with single gender classes, but ultimately concludes that there are mixed reviews about single gender classes. She ends with the suggestion that, while single gender classes work for some students, they are not the solution for all students.

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Reflection
While there is certainly a lot of information out right now about single gender classes, there doesn't seem to be steadfast evidence as to whether it is really successful. Ultimately, I can only speak to what happens in my own classroom. I have had incredible success in my single gender classroom. I have seen boys open up to literature in ways that do not happen in my coed classroom. The boys have student-led discussions about the books they are reading, asking each other questions and challenging each others' opinions. The grades for the boys in my single gender classroom are higher than the grades for the boys in my coed classroom, and the students have a higher turn in rate. However, I could not have done this without researching the different ways boys learn and completely changing the way I teach that section of my class. In order to deal with gender differences, teachers who choose to teach single gender classes must pay special attention to the various ways students learn. If a teacher decides to take on a single gender class, he/she must be willing to also change the way he/she teaches. If not, there will not be significant changes in the results.

As a bonus, the following are a few resources I have used to help myself learn to teach all-boy classes. I have personally used all three of these resouces, and they are a great start for anyone teaching an all-boy class in the future. Since all of my classes are not single gender, I have also used the information found in these resources to help my lower achieving male students in my coed classes. Unfortunately, I have not done as much research for helping the girls in my classes, and that is certainly something I will look into as I continue teaching.
  • Abigail Norfleet James's book Teaching the Male Brain has probably been the best resource for me. It uses research to show why males learn differently and presents ready to use strategies for the classroom. I like this book because throughout every chapter, there is a section called Applications for Your Classroom which includes a variety of activities that can be used to get specific results depending on what you are trying to do in your class.

  • Reading Don't Fix No Chevys, by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, is a book about literacy for young men. They discuss the problems boys encounter in school, especially in the areas of reading and writing. Their book provides many creative methods to motivate young men in these areas, and it is supplemented with interviews with forty-nine young high school and middle school students that the authors studied to determine their alternatives to traditional instruction.

  • In the area of writing, Ralph Fleter's Boy Writers is a good resource for supporting teachers of male writers. He encourages giving male students more choice in their writing and instructs teachers to learn to understand boys and expand their definition of writing. This book is great because each chapter ends with a section called "What Can I do in my Classroom?" which offers practical ideas for teachers.